The Book (Purge) Report

I declared my intention to do it over a month ago. It’s been nagging at me for far longer, but as it approached, I became ever more excited about undertaking it. I took last week off from work to get it done. The Big Book Purge of 2015 is now history, and so are nearly 400 books that have left both my house and my LibraryThing catalog.

books on the shelves to be boxed and donated book purge The 3 Rs Blog

That’s a good-guesstimate number–I didn’t do a physical count. The discards included a sizable number of for-review-consideration ARCs that I didn’t consider, and therefore never cataloged in LT, and the LT deletions included well over 100 books I’d previously discarded but hadn’t removed from the catalog–I’m setting those two items off against one another to approximate the total.

I started with the easy stuff. I don’t keep many books after I finish reading them, and I had stacked a good number of “done” books with the unconsidered galleys on a couple of shelves in the garage. Those were the first to go, on Tuesday afternoon–after I’d moved all the books that were cataloged into a new LT collection I named “Purge,” I loaded them into the car and dropped them off in an American Book Drive donation bin.

Next on the degree-of-difficulty scale were the bookshelves holding nonfiction and the ARCs I call “expired”–the ones I never got around to reading when they really were “advance” copies. (Some have been around so long they’ve probably been through hardcover, paperback, and remainders by now.) My nonfiction reading tends to be subject-driven, so in most cases I kept the book if I was still interested in the subject. I asked myself two questions about any book I wasn’t certain about:

  • “Why was I interested in this?” and
  • “Am I still interested in this?”

The answer “I don’t know” to the first question and “No” to the second landed the book in the discard stacks. The same process worked for the expired ARCs, both nonfiction and fiction.

books stacked on the table book purge The 3 Rs Blog

I saved the fiction shelves for the second day of the project, because I knew they’d be more work. I didn’t take every book off the nonfiction shelves and handle it before making a decision about it–this was not a full-blown KonMari process–but on the fiction side, I had to.  I asked myself the same questions as I had for nonfiction, and then some. I read plot descriptions, reevaluated authors I once read habitually but no longer do, and reconsidered writers whose books I seemed to collect rather than read.

book stacks on the table book purge The 3 Rs Blog

My reason for tackling this project was to make an honest and realistic assessment of my TBR, which is most of what was on these shelves. I think I’ve long since overcome my fear of running out of books to read, but I am increasingly apprehensive about running out of time to read them. That focus meant I didn’t spend much time on the relatively small number of books I have kept after reading. I’ve long since made my decisions about most of those…but I did reconsider just a few of them this time around, and they’re not here any more.

midlife readers running out of time The 3 Rs Blog

I’ve excluded signed books from previous purges, but I decided not to do that this time around. Books that were signed, but not personalized, went. A few that were personalized, but which I haven’t read and which didn’t generate affirmative answers to my questions about whether I might still want to, also went.

One outcome of sorting the signed books was that I kept almost no hardcover fiction that wasn’t personally inscribed to me by the author…because, honestly, hardcover is my least favorite way to read anything. Here are a few other observations and outcomes:

  • It was a bit demoralizing to note how many purge victims were acquired during my three trips to Book Expo (2011, 2012, and 2014). Although I came back with fewer books every year, it’s hard not to succumb to the buzz.
  • It just made me sad to pick up so many of the novels and be able to picture them on the tables at Borders, where I first found them. I still miss Borders. 
  • I discarded unread books that came to California with me when I moved here from Memphis…thirteen years ago. I bought some of those at Borders in Memphis, so they’ve been with me even longer than that. After over a decade of TBR neglect, it was well past time to cut my losses, and I don’t feel terribly guilty about it.
  • On a related note, I feel NO guilt at finally admitting I do not intend to read The Corrections–goodbye to Jonathan Franzen! He left with almost all of the Joyce Carol Oates books. Getting rid of those may have been the real goal of this entire project, to be honest.
books and boxes loaded in the car book purge The 3 Rs Blog
I moved all of the soon-to-depart books to my “purge” collection in LibraryThing. Then I used LT’s new “take inventory” feature to identify any books in my “to read” collection which I hadn’t handled in the last couple of days; I marked those as “absent” and moved them to the “purge” collection, too. I exported the “purge” collection to an Excel file so I’d have a record of what I was losing, and then I deleted all of those books from LT. If I want any of them again at some point in the future, there’s always ebook or audio (and my brand-new library card!).

Finally, the books left the house–some to the book-drive bin, and the rest to be donated to the library. And now I get to bask in the new spaces on my bookshelves…till they get filled up again, of course. I doubt this is the last time I’ll ever have to do this.

bookshelves with space for more books book purge The 3 Rs Blog

Have you ever done a big book purge? Do you need to? How do you find new homes for your books?

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